WHY I #TakeAKnee
Yesterday NFL teams demonstrated various levels of protest against racism and, specifically, police brutality toward people of color, by locking arms, kneeling, or simply not showing up during the traditional playing of the national anthem before their games.
As with everything these days, people are divided. To me, though, we need not take sides. We can see a path forward in which a person can kneel during the National Anthem and respect the flag. Don't take my word for it; here's Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick's original co-protestor, on why they decided to kneel. You should read it and hear directly from the source on how this protest started (assuming you still have free NYT articles left this month).
I'd like to take a moment to share whey I am proud to #TakeAKnee alongside NFL players and coaches, and invite you, if you're among the angry, to spend just a second considering why this might be about more than disrespecting our flag.
THERE'S A BETTER WAY
This has been the most consistent refrain.
"Sure, racism is bad," they say, "but if you want it to end, there's a better way to say so."
No, there isn't.
First, this is what people say about almost every protest because protests, in order to be effective, must disrupt or offend. When civil rights leaders in the 60's sat in all-white cafe's, people complained that they disrupted business. When Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus, people complained she was arrogant. When marchers blocked the Mississippi river bridge in Memphis recently, people complained about traffic flow. Nobody likes protests because nobody wants their normal routine disrupted. A good protest creates public inconvenience.
Kneeling during a song is the most passive form of protest possible save for lying face-down. The public inconvenience is exactly zero. They do not prevent the anthem from being played, obstruct any person from standing, overpower the song with shouts, or otherwise stop people's ability to observe the tradition. The game starts on-time. Television broadcasts proceed as scheduled. No additional security is required. It is well within the protestor's constitutional rights, and those who continue to protest have the blessing of their employer.
There is literally, by definition, no better way to protest.
THEY DISRESPECT THE FLAG AND SOLDIERS WHO DIED FOR IT
This is another common response. And, to me, it warrants consideration. Those who #TakeAKnee need to listen close, especially to our veterans.
I don't mess around with criticizing soldiers. I don't agree with war, and I believe America goes too far in our violence toward other countries. But the men and women who serve in the armed forces give more than the rest of us, and that's a noble thing. There is not one ounce of me that would like to be caught up in a war. I don't want to get injured, maimed, or killed. But I also have no desire to inflict suffering on others. So, for the soldiers who sacrifice both body and mind on the battlefield, we need to consider how we honor (or dishonor) their sacrifice.
That being said, calling our nation to higher standards regarding race and police practices is not equivalent to "disrespecting the flag." Asking us as a people to exercise fundamental principles like "liberty and justice for all" is in fact an act of validation of the flag, a stated belief in what America is capable of. We disrespect our soldiers who fight for freedom when we perpetuate systems that withhold freedom.
JOHN MIDDLEMAS, WORLD WAR 2 VET
Here's a guy I like. John Middlemas lives in Missouri and is a 97-year-old World War 2 vet. His grandson, Brennan Gilmore, posted this picture with the caption: "My grandpa is a 97 year-old WWII vet & Missouri farmer who wanted to join w/ those who #TakeaKnee: "those kids have every right to protest.""
One reason I like this is because, come on, who wouldn't want this guy to be their grandpa! Also, Mr. Middlemas demonstrates that it's possible to be grateful for our veterans and call for an end to racism. We don't have to pick sides. We can kneel for the national anthem as a demonstration of our patriotism, believing America to be better than our systems that oppress and marginalize others.
WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON?
Can I ask a question? Why are you more upset over the form of the protest than the reason for the protest? In other words, why are you more angry over kneeling during the national anthem than over the fact that racism still exists in 2017?
I'm certain you're not racist (at least if you're a friend or relative of mine). I'm certain you think racism is wrong. I'm certain you think there is no place for racism in the world, especially in our modern context. I'm certain you love your black friends and neighbors, and value the lives of every individual regardless of skin tone.
So why have you reacted so strongly toward the NFL over teams' stated opposition toward racism?
BECAUSE WE DON'T THINK RACISM IS REAL
I cannot help but wonder if it's because lots of folks aren't convinced that racism still exists. We see the news reports and write them off as biased media. We read studies on police brutality and assume it's a skewed sample size. We see footage of actual violence against unarmed black people and convince ourselves that, even if he was unarmed, he probably did something illegal at some point in his life, justifying the violence towards him.
We create a reality in which bad things only happen to bad people. And when others speak up about those bad things, we assume they must be bad people too.
I #TakeAKnee BECAUSE I HAVE BLACK KIDS
But, I need you to know that I Take a Knee. I stand (or kneel, I suppose) in solidarity with the players and coaches kneeling or abstaining from the anthem ceremony.
I respect our flag.
I am grateful for our soldiers.
And I want my kids to grow up in a better world.
These two dorks are Judah and Seth. They're both 9, though Seth is one grade above Judah. Seth is the youngest of our biological kids and Judah is the oldest of our adopted ones. The pictures don't show it, but Judah is significantly bigger than Seth, and his skin is much, much darker. His hair is thick and curly, and he loves growing out his afro. He's biracial - hispanic mom and black dad - but he looks black. And he'll be huge in the not-too-distant future.
These are brothers from the same family, who live in the same house, eat at the same table, attend the same school, worship at the same church, play with the same dogs, and sleep in the same bed. They're both quite confident, respectful, and obedient.
Statistically, though, as they get older, these brothers will veer from one another in a critical way. Judah will be seen with suspicion while Seth will be given the benefit of the doubt. When they start driving, Seth's biggest fear will be getting a speeding ticket, while Judah's biggest fear will be the unknown: what's going to happen when the officer approaches the car? Judah is more likely to be mistaken for a "person of interest," and treated as such, a scenario in which he must defend himself against actions he didn't commit. According to this study, Judah is 3.49-times more likely to be shot by a police officer than Seth, assuming both are unarmed. Even more alarming, Judah is just as likely to be shot by a police officer if he were unarmed as Seth is likely to be shot if he were armed!
Despite linking the study above, I honestly can't tell you all the statistics. I can't cite every example of good policing and bad policing. I'm not well-rehearsed in debates surrounding racial issues. But I can say this as a fact: I have to teach my children of color how to behave around police officers in a way that I don't have to teach my white kids. That's a fundamental reality for me as a dad and for millions of other parents. Let me be perfectly clear: that's not a statement of condemnation toward police, it's simply the statistical reality in which we live and operate.
So, whether or not you want to believe racism or white privilege is real;
whether or not you want to believe the statistics on police brutality;
whether or not you want to validate protestors;
whether or not you want to call Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization;
my reality is that I have to teach my black kids how to survive in a way that I don't have to teach my white kids.
I'm sorry that you're offended by football players kneeling during the National Anthem, but I'm offended that it's 2017 and I still have to have this conversation with my kids.
So I'm taking a knee.
I understand if you boycott the NFL or quit following your favorite team. I'll skip past your posts calling grown men "illiterate thugs." I won't comment when you say you want to keep politics out of football or post that meme comparing Colin Kaepernick to a young, black soldier.
But know that when the games are over and you move on to the next controversy, I still have to teach my black kids how to survive in America. And until the day comes when that is no longer necessary, I'll take a knee.